White asbestos definitely a top-level carcinogen, says expert

The Government’s chief scientific advisor has reaffirmed the status of chrysotile (white) asbestos as a Class 1 carcinogenic substance, and has concluded that there is no valid reason to demote it to a less-serious category.

In November 2010, Sir John Beddington, head of the Government Office for Science, was approached by Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, to consider whether any evidence exists that would “justify an imminent change to the ‘international scientific consensus on the classification of asbestos’ and so allow ministers to reconsider UK legislation”.

Although the experts concluded that chrysotile breaks down in the lung more quickly than amphibole forms of asbestos, they also asserted that chrysotile ‘s toxicological action is unclear, and pointed to uncertainty about whether the carcinogenicity of asbestos fibres is linked to how long they remain in the lung, or to cumulative exposure over time.

In a letter to the Work and Pensions Secretary earlier this month, Sir John concluded that there is “no justification for an imminent change to the international scientific consensus on the classification of chrysotile as a Class 1 carcinogen”.

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